Writing Winning Funding Applications

Whatever the level of funding you wish to apply for, whether it is from the Research Student Conference Fund or a prestigious fellowship to launch an independent research career, there are some simple rules which will help you to prepare a more successful application.

1. Check eligibility. This might seem obvious, but take time to read the funder’s criteria and ensure that you are at the right career stage and planning to use to the funds for acceptable projects.

2. Make a timetable. Be aware of deadlines and the administrative demands of the application. The more prestigious funds for researchers will require institutional support, so find out who you need to contact within your institution and make sure they will support your application. Allow plenty of time for getting signatures and agreement – many funding officers ask for 2 weeks notice.

3. Develop your research plan based on the funder’s objectives and find parallels between their long-term strategies and your proposed project. If a funder is particularly interested in developing links with other countries, industry or the public think about whether these interests fit with your own, and emphasise these in your application.

4. If possible, find out what has been funded previously – are their trends in the funding awarded? Do the projects look consistent with your own?

5. If the application will be subject to a review process, make sure you understand what this will involve. Will the proposal be reviewed by people outside your field? Do you need to include a general summary written for non-physicists?

6. Build your own review panel and talk to them about your ideas as early as you can. Take their feedback into account as your write the proposal and get feedback from a range of people, ideally including those who have been reviewers for the same funder and are familiar with their preferences.

7. Maximise your personal impact before the application is submitted. Speak at conferences about your work, offer to give seminars at other departments, promote your published work to key people and ensure it is easily available by posting it into your institutional repository (ask in your University Library for details). You want as many people as possible to know you and your work at the point when you apply for funding.

8. Find the right balance in the proposal between high risk/high reward research and work which has a strong chance of success. Include any pilot data and develop clear plans which show how the research will progress. Again, get feedback on finding the right balance.

9. Make it clear why the project is happening at the location you’ve decided on – this is critical for fellowship funding, particularly if you plan to remain in the same institution. Convince the funder that the location will help the research to be more successful and have greater potential impact. Emphasise the benefits of the institution or facility.

10. If you will be interviewed during the funding decision making process, ask for a mock interview in your department or university. This will usually be done by senior academic and managers who have extensive experience and although it may not be an entirely pleasant experience, it will help you to prepare far more effectively.

There is more detailed advice on fellowship applications in the Glasgow Guide to Fellowships.